The Ketchikan School Board will hold a special meeting on Wednesday evening to decide whether to approve a revised reopening plan for the Ketchikan School District in the fall.
The meeting date is a mere two days before the state's official deadline for districts to submit their reopening plans, though at previous meetings Superintendent Beth Lougee and board members said the July 31 deadline is not firm and that the district still would be able to submit its plan after that date.
Lougee outlined the revised reopening plan in a Friday evening email and released more details about the plan on Monday morning in the form of a 35-slide presentation addressing the reopening process. The revisions mostly focus on how schools would operate when there is a low risk of transmitting the coronavirus within the community, a topic that agitated parents when the district unveiled its original reopening plan in May.
The draft plan followed a mandatory state framework designed to allow schools to change their safety protocols depending on the community's risk of spreading the virus: a high community risk would mean learning remotely full-time, while a low community risk would allow for students to spend more time learning face-to-face with teachers.
But in order to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation that students remain six feet apart where feasible, the original plan had 50% of children learning in person each day, even with a low community risk. Several parents argued at subsequent board meetings that to have children learning at home, potentially without supervision, would make it nearly impossible for parents to guarantee their kids' safety and would cause problems for teachers to make sure students would be accountable for completing schoolwork.
The revised plan would keep the multi-level hierarchy of community risk present in the draft plan but would sidestep the issue of supervision by allowing students to attend optional off-site "annexes" where they could complete work while being supervised by an adult. Lougee confirmed in a Monday evening interview that the annex for Point Higgins Elementary School would be at Clover Pass Elementary School, and that the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences would have its annex at the First Assembly of God Church. Ketchikan Charter School would have its annex at the Church of the Nazarene and Ketchikan Presbyterian Church. Lougee said the district continues to work on arrangements for other schools.
The revisions also would require students to wear face masks in medium-risk scenarios and would recommend masks in low-risk scenarios.
Several members of the community were skeptical even of the brief amount of annex information released by the district, however. On Sunday afternoon, local resident Renshiel Bickford posted a petition online to change.org to express dissatisfaction with the superintendent, writing in the post that "Lougee hasn't done her part. She is no leader and she does not support and will not support us. She doesn't listen and is no good for our children with (Individual Education Plans). Please sign this petition and help motivate our (School Board) to boot her out."
By midday Monday, the petition had surpassed 250 signatures; as of 8:27 p.m. Tuesday, 507 people had signed the petition.
Speaking with the Daily News in a phone interview at 8:03 p.m. Tuesday, Lougee responded to Bickford's claims.
"I feel like I have always listened to the needs of the community," Lougee said. "Through all of Smart Start, we have been doing surveys, listening to the inputs (that) all parents have been providing. I guess that's all I'd have to say about that, is, I'm always listening, my door is open — like, you calling me at 8 o'clock at night, I think I'm pretty accessible here in my own office."
She added: "I'm confident in my leadership, and ... I'm confident in my communication and involving parents and other people in the decisions that are being made."
Lougee on Monday hosted three meetings that the district referred to as town halls to present more details about the new plan, though only at the final meeting, held in person at the Ketchikan High School auditorium, did she open the floor to questions from the audience.
But several audience members criticized the revised plan for a number of reasons, saying it still presented challenges for parents who wouldn't want to send their children to learning annexes and challenges for students with special needs. Throughout the meeting, several audience members heckled the superintendent and board members, calling for a total reopening of schools with a normal schedule.
If the School Board does not approve the revised plan on Wednesday, the district will continue to work on changes and the plan will be considered at a later date.
Also on Wednesday's agenda, the board will enter an executive session "regarding Superintendent/Board Relations," the meeting agenda states, "a subject that tends to prejudice the reputation and character of any person, provided the person may request a public discussion." No further information about the session is provided on the agenda.
Wednesday's special meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly chambers at 1900 First Ave. There will be time for citizen remarks at the beginning of the meeting. Members of the public can watch a livestream of the meeting at kgbak.us/434/meeting-video-archive.
The district's complete revised reopening presentation can be found on the district's website at kgbsd.org.